Work to Be Done: As Teen Pregnancy Rates Decline, Georgia Youth Workers Broaden Focus

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Teens holding hands in a group.

The past two decades have been busy for Georgia's sexual health advocates. The state that had the highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country in 1995 (96.5 pregnancies per 1,000 young women) has cut its rate by more than half. Today, 37.9 Georgia teens out of every thousand get pregnant, only the 13th teen-pregnancy rate in the nation.

Of course, Georgia’s success reflects a national trend. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that American teen pregnancy rates have declined steadily for decades now. In fact, the 2012 rate was less than half of 1991’s. The U.S teen pregnancy rate is still higher than those in Canada and Western Europe, and disparities remain: the pregnancy rate for white teens is less than half that for Hispanic and black youth, for example, and a similar imbalance exists between New England and the Deep South.

But generally the news is good, particularly in Georgia, where advocates say they continue to focus on preventing pregnancies while also evolving and meeting new challenges. That means framing teen’s sexual health and safety in a greater context of personal well-being.

“We’re trying to move away from pregnancy prevention as one set-apart thing, a taboo subject, and get to where it’s intertwined with the rest of young people’s education and experience,” says Daniela Whitaker, executive director of Kids Restart, a teen pregnancy prevention program in Augusta, GA.

Nurturing Adolescent Health

To reflect the wider focus on adolescent health, the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, known as GCAPP, earlier this year changed its name to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential.

“We started looking at the other issues facing young people,” says Kim Nolte, vice president of programs and training. “Obesity is a big one. So we’ve started expanding our work into adolescent health and well-being.”

Along those lines, new GCAPP initiatives include a curriculum for parents to improve their children’s eating habits. The organization is also collaborating with seven Atlanta churches to develop a physical activity plan for young people living in “food deserts,” where there are few grocery stores and other sources of healthy food.

Nolte says the organization’s original mission and its new nutritional focus are complementary ways of ensuring healthy futures for young people. “Whether it’s preventing a pregnancy, developing healthy relationships, or eating better, it’s about helping young people grow into happy, healthy adults.”

Embracing ‘Evidence-Based’

In the last five years Georgia organizations have also embraced the federal government’s focus on evidence-based practices in adolescent pregnancy prevention, which Nolte says has sent their already successful campaign against teen pregnancy into overdrive. She notes that five years ago there were no agencies using such practices in Georgia. Now, she claims over 140 agencies do, reaching nearly 30,000 young people.

For example, thanks to a Personal Responsibility and Education Program sub-grant from GCAPP, Kids Restart has begun using the evidence-based Making Proud Choices curriculum, which teaches youth about avoiding sexually transmitted infections, resisting peer pressure and generally living healthily. And GCAPP is developing a community of practice—an information-sharing network of service providers—to standardize the work being done in community organizations like Kids Restart.

Before the evidence-based culture took hold, Nolte says, many Georgia programs worked in isolation. “Now, through PREP, we have an opportunity to align our funding and measure our success together.”

 

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